The Spirit and the Bride

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Our Lady and the Holy Spirit

Today’s feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is, in its own special way, a feast of the Holy Spirit, a fitting sequel to the Solemnity of Pentecost that we celebrated just three weeks ago.

The Visitation

The Church ponders the mystery of the Visitation two or three times a year: today, on May 31st, in preparation for the solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist on June 24th; during Advent, on December 21st; and again on the Fourth Sunday of Advent of the Year C.

The Roman liturgy gives us two Mass formularies for the Visitation: the one given in the Missal for May 31st, and a second one found in the Collectio Missarum de Beata Maria Virgine (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1987). This latter contains four explicit mentions of the Holy Spirit. The translations are my own.

The Collect

O God, Saviour of mankind, who by the blessed Virgin Mary,
the ark of the new covenant, brought salvation and gladness
to the house of Elizabeth,
grant, we beseech you, that, by yielding to the breath of the Spirit,
we may carry Christ to our brothers and sisters,
magnifying you by our praises and by the holiness of our way of life.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

This Collect uses a very evocative phrase: “yielding to the breath of the Spirit.” To yield to the Holy Spirit requires suppleness; it obliges us to let go of our plans, to make changes in our program, to “arise and go with haste into the hill country” (Lk 1:39). In going to Elizabeth, Mary yielded to the breath of the Holy Spirit. Our Lady could do this because she was light as a feather carried on a gentle breeze; light, I say, because she was utterly poor —empty of self — and utterly virginal — pure capacity for God.

What keeps us from yielding to the breath of the Spirit if not the heaviness that clings to us and weighs us down, the burden of our preoccupation with self, the load of all our attachments? What happens when we yield — give in — to the breath of the Spirit? We may be carried where would rather not go. One thing is certain, and this too is in the Collect, we will be free to carry the hidden Christ, to others and to magnify God with praise and with holy living.

The Prayer Over the Offerings

Lord, we beseech you
let your Spirit hallow these our gifts,
the very Spirit who formed the Virgin Mary to be a new creature,
so that from her, bathed in dew from heaven,
would rise the fruit of salvation, Jesus Christ your Son,
who is Lord forever and ever.

This Prayer Over the Offerings asks the Father to hallow them by sending upon them the same Spirit who formed the Virgin Mary to be a new creature: an allusion to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit at the moment of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. It goes on to describe the Blessed Virgin as “bathed in dew from heaven”: a reference to her overshadowing by the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation.

The Dew of Your Spirit

The same image of dew is used for the Holy Spirit at the Epiclesis in Eucharistic Prayer II: “Therefore, make holy these gifts, we pray, by the dew of your Spirit, that they may become for us the Body + and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Mary most holy, bathed in the dew of the Spirit, brought forth the fruit of salvation, the blessed fruit of her womb, Jesus. That same fruit of salvation is given us in the Most Holy Eucharist, by the power of the same Spirit, descending invisibly like dew from heaven on our oblations of bread and wine.

The Preface

Truly it is right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.

By Elizabeth’s prophetic words
proclaimed under the impulse of the Spirit,
you made known to us
the surpassing privilege of the holy Virgin Mary.

Rightly hailed as blessed
for her faith in the promises of salvation,
in her service of her charity,
she is recognized as the Mother of the Lord
by the mother of his forerunner.

And so, united in joy to the canticle of the Godbearing Virgin,
we humbly magnify your majesty
with the throngs of angels and saints
who ceaselessly proclaim:

The Preface sings of Elizabeth’s prophetic words uttered under the impulse of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit, speaking through the mouth of Elizabeth, makes known the mystery of the Virgin Mary, her surpassing privilege as Mother of God. This tells us that if we would penetrate the mystery of Mary, we must listen carefully for every utterance made in the Holy Spirit.

Lectio divina is precisely this. The Holy Spirit, in bearing witness to Christ, reveals him always as Son of God and Son of the Virgin Mary. The humble prayer of the Rosary is a way of listening for these utterances of the Counselor, the Holy Spirit. “He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (Jn 14:26). Pre-eminent among the mysteries taught by the Spirit is that of the Blessed Virgin Mary, “concealed from the wise and understanding and revealed to mere children” (Lk 10:21).

The Postcommunion

Having instructed your Church by these divine sacraments, O Lord
and filled her with your Holy Spirit,
let her hasten in joy to every people,
that, hearing the word of salvation,
they may exult in the works of the redemption
and recognize in your Christ the Saviour of all nations.
Who lives and reigns forever and ever.

Lastly, the Postcommunion Prayer describes the Church as “instructed by the divine sacraments and filled with the Holy Spirit.” The Most Holy Eucharist is —in the way proper to it— a sacrament of the Holy Spirit. (Read Father Schmemann’s magnificent book, The Eucharist.) When we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit. “Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’” (Lk 1:42-43).

Visitations of the Mother and of the Son

May it be given us today, and throughout this Time After Pentecost, to receive the Holy Spirit, and in the Holy Spirit to discern every visitation of the Immaculate Virgin Mother, and every hidden advent of her Divine Son.

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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